A turning point near in Syria?


Once it appeared as if Bashar al-Assad could ride out the wave of unrest sweeping his country and that Syria would be the exception to the Arab Spring.

Unlike some of his fellow Arab dictators, Syria’s president had no qualms about using extreme violence against opposition to his rule, unleashing his army against entire towns and neighborhoods. The death toll is said to be 9,000 and rising.

Assad had a friendly Russia and China running interference for his regime in the U.N. Security Council, with Iran and Iraq cheerleading from the sidelines. The sanctions against him tended to be unilateral and poorly enforced. The opposition, though courageous and resilient, was disorganized with few recognized leaders. The loose bloc of nations opposed to his rule, the “Friends of Syria,” seemed largely limited to expressions of moral support. The U.S. quietly threw cold water on the idea of international military intervention of the kind that unseated Moammar Gadhafi in Libya.

That may have all changed last weekend, and now time may be running out for Assad, whose family has ruled Syria for 40 years.

Under prodding from friendly nations, the Syrian insurgents have organized a Syrian National Council, finally giving the international community an entity to deal with. That organization is only a few steps away from being recognized as a government-in-exile.

The Friends of Syria, now grown to at least 80 nations and international organizations, on Monday agreed in Istanbul to provide the opposition with $176 million in humanitarian aid and $100 million in salaries for insurgent fighters and to lure defectors from Syria’s regular army. The U.S. will contribute a total of $25 million, sophisticated communications equipment and, reportedly, night-vision goggles.

Former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan tried to broker an 11th-hour ceasefire and peace agreement. Assad agreed, but his forces continued to pound opposition neighborhoods.

Neighboring Turkey, although wanting to see Assad out, has so far refused to provide a safe zone on its borders for Syrian refugees and fighters. But that position is in flux, with the foreign minister now saying Turkey will look at “all alternatives.”

Even Russia, seemingly growing impatient with Assad’s intransigence, is urging the Syrian leader to pull his troops from the cities. Russia did not attend the Friends of Syria meeting but is hosting two opposition delegations in Moscow.

Also losing patience is U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, a tireless opponent of the Assad regime. She has led the effort to unite the world in the face of the Syrian crisis, demonstrating again what a sure-footed, effective diplomat she is.

Clinton says the world cannot sit back and wait much longer. After this weekend, she may not have that long a wait.

Source: Metro West Daily News

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